SAVANNAH, Ga. — Record attendance marks the opening of this year’s Southeast Produce Council fall conference.

SEPC conference breaks attendance record

Doug Ohlemeier

Steve Williams (left), director of produce and floral for Sweetbay Supermarkets, Tampa, Fla., a division of the Brussels-based Delhaize Group, talks with Dennis Jackson, the Hudson, N.H.-based category manager with First Fruits Marketing, Yakima, Wash., during the Southeast Produce Council’s fall conference in Savannah, Ga. The conference officially opened on Sept. 24 with educational sessions that focused on the Produce Traceability Initiative.

The conference officially opened with a Sept. 24 educational session on the Produce Traceability Initiative.

Council president Tom Page, East Coast procurement manager for the Lakeland, Fla. office of Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Supervalu Inc., said 275 retailers, foodservice distributors, grower-shippers and allied industry people have descended upon the Georgia coastal city for the annual event.

“This is the biggest fall conference we have ever had,” Page said. “Attendance is higher than last year’s 10th anniversary.”

Page said the organization has made a commitment to adding value to the conference so the event becomes more than just a golf outing.

The educational session featured retail, foodservice and grower-shipper representatives discussing implementation of the Produce Traceability Initiative.

Anthony Salerni, program quality manager of regional produce programs for Sysco Corp., Houston, discussed what it is like for a broadline foodservice operator to implement the Produce Traceability Initiative.

He pointed to the 2008 salmonella scare that incorrectly blamed tomatoes for causing sicknesses.

“( The Produce Traceability Initiative) can quickly identify what product is not affected by a recall,” Salerni said. “The biggest challenge is that it must be implemented by the entire food industry, not just a few segments.”

Salerni said fresh produce accounts for 8% of Sysco’s sales but has doubled within past 8 years. He said fresh-cut fruit has seen the biggest increase in sales.